Potiche (Review)

French comedy is a lightweight but tasty morsel

May 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm

A lightweight confection, this French import from director Francois Ozon slides down easily even though it never truly satisfies. Adapted by the filmmaker from a play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, Potiche never acquires any psychological depth or narrative flourish. The comedy is somewhat diagrammatic and forced, though the film’s delightful performances and brilliant color palette see it through any rough patches. The 1977 setting also amplifies the film’s superficial mood as it recalls the tenor of numerous late-’70s French sex comedies.

Catherine Deneuve has the leading role as Suzanne Pujol, the trophy wife of the title. She is married to a rich, sexist adulterer (Fabrice Luchini), who owns the umbrella factory that was founded by Suzanne’s father and was part of the dowry she brought to the marriage. (In one of the film's unspoken charms, the the umbrella factory echoes Deneuve’s earlier film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.) Workers’ strikes and the women’s movement permeate the late-’70s atmosphere, and when the disgruntled umbrella-makers take their boss hostage, it’s not long before the mildly resentful trophy wife steps in to take his place. Further complications arise with the entrance of Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu), a former union leader and lover of Suzanne’s, who is mortified by his attraction to this paragon of the bourgeoisie.

Deneuve and Depardieu are refreshing in the leading roles, almost because of their age rather than in spite of it. Yet the characters still never come across as flesh-and-blood human beings; they remain concepts that never emerge into recognizable people. No matter — Potiche is a tasty morsel. Grade: B

Opens May 6. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.